West Virginia Water Crisis Continues, National Coverage Lacking

Photo by  stevendepolo

More than a month after a major water source was polluted, people still having problems


CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA  - Whether it's another story about the weather being bad or more unwarranted news of Justin Beiber getting into trouble, we're bombarded with all types of news these days. However, one story doesn't seem to be getting a lot of coverage from the national media - and it should.

Back on January 9, Freedom Industries Inc reported a leak of chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia. Specifically, Crude MCHM leaked from storage containers that hadn't been inspected in quite a few years.

Whether it's the Center for Disease Control, local health departments, or West Virginia's American Water, a lot of officials have come forward to say that the water is now safe to drink and use despite there being questions about acceptable levels of Crude MCHM for humans.

Even without a lot of information available, officials were quick to come up with a number deemed an acceptable "screening level" - 1 part per million. As long as levels were below that, everyone was safe and life could go on.

After the initial reports, the national TV news switched to reporting Justin Beiber's hijinx and other stories and apparently forgot all about the problems West Virginia was having. Luckily, a lot of local journalists in the West Virginia have stuck with the story as bottled water becomes a way of life for people in the area.

Last Monday - in case you missed it - State Health Officer Dr. Leticia Tierney told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that, “Everybody has a different definition of safe.” She then proceeded to deem the water “usable for every purpose."

Reports abound online of a strange licorice smell and people getting sick from being exposed to or drinking the water. If the water is safe, why were schools closed? According to a story in Business Week,  "it’s possible the chemical adhered to plastic pipes in the homes or to corroded metal pipes, or that it broke down into other compounds."

That information came from Andrew Whelton from the University of South Alabama who was assigned to test water in various areas of the region affected by the chemical spill.

“We can’t just point a single finger at this company,” Angela Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition, told The New York Times. “We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.”

Why was regulation on this chemical about which so little is known so lax? Because MCHM was one of tens of thousands of chemicals grandfathered in with the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

Freedom Industries Inc. has been very quiet, but hopefully the large media corporations will begin to pick up this story that so desperately needs more national attention.

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